It seems that my upcoming voyage home has left me a bit reflective about the past seven months in Mongolia. It’s really quite amazing to me…since we arrived in UB, we have cultivated our new normal, our new routine, our new familiar. To think about those things in the Mongolia context, they all feel just that: normal, routine, familiar. And they no longer feel that new. To think about them in the USA context, well, it’s not even worth trying. It’s just a different world.
Case in point, my daily walk to work. I leave home at around 8:25 each morning, walk down the eight flights of stairs and head out into the world. It takes me about half an hour to get to work. On a busy day, I pass three foreigners. On an average day, I pass none. I get stares, curious glances, giggles, sometimes heckles, and sometimes a funny comment about the oddity of me being who I am am, where I am. Some days I love the walk, others I hate it. The weather plays a factor in this of course, but the reality is that there is so much more.
I love it when I can see the mountains, because when I can see the mountains, UB is beautiful. When I cannot see the mountains, I also cannot breathe. That is because no mountains means plenty of pollution.
I love it when I hear curious comments about me – partially because I love all of the quirks that life has to offer, but mostly because it means that I am beginning to understand more and more Mongolian. I hate it when I hear heckles or, worse, get pushed or snarled at. I don’t understand it and no matter if it’s a cultural difference or not, it’s not something I will ever come to understand. I just think it’s wrong.
I love it when my counterpart at work speaks English. She is a 55 year old woman, solid as a rock, and very much a product of Communist Mongolia. Her English is extremely limited, but she has learned a few key phrases since I arrived. We share a mutual appreciation of the other’s attempts to speak in a foreign tongue, so when we find a new phrase or saying that we can both make sense of, it’s a good day in the office.
I love passing gers on my walk to work because since when have gers become a part of my normal, just another landmark in the countdown to my arrival at work?
Soon enough, I will love that the fruit vendors have returnd to their little huts on the side of the road. They, understandably, disappear for the winter, but when we arrived last August, they were everywhere. In the concrete city that is UB, it’s nice to pass bursts of color every now and again.
Their return also means that these warm days we have had recently are not in fact just someone’s horrible joke. You see, something magical happened as of late: it turned to Spring, and for the first time since October, I walked to work without a hat on. Oh the glory. It’s just that, umm, I had begun to think that winter would never end…that we really were in the land of perpetual winter. But we’re not!
I won’t mention the dust storms that are due to begin any time now and last through the end of Spring, because if Mongolia has taught me one thing it is to embrace the present and appreciate any nice fluffy feeling you find because they don’t last long. Not if Chinggis has anything to say about it.
So yeah, Chris is off with a few friends for a few days, bouncing around the Mongolian countryside in a Russian Jeep. I’m left to hold down the fort and get myself set to fly home on Friday. It will be a quick trip – two weeks – but I am so wonderfully excited to see my family, meet my beautiful new niece, and eat any piece of lettuce that dares cross my path. Lettuce has begun appearing in my dreams (I’m not kidding) which means that it is definitely time to share my new normal, my new routine, and my new familiar with all of my favorite old normals, old routines and old familiars. I simply cannot wait.